With a small herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats, my family will never be free from purchasing fluid milk. But we didn’t get these little girls for the milk. Nope. We bought them for their butterfat. Nigerians are cheese goats.
We’re still in the early days, and right now we only have one milking doe, and she’s a first freshener. Our once-daily milkings produce a whopping cup of milk a day. Sometimes more, sometimes less. So, I hoard milk in the freezer and make my cheese and cajeta one quart at a time.
Start with Good Milk
The key to tasty cheese is good milk. There are some tricks to making sure you have the best-tasting goat’s milk. That includes having the right equipment and using a good teat wash. Cleanliness during the milk handling process is essential.
Chèvre is the easiest cheese in the world to make, and it’s very forgiving. Perfect for a novice. To begin, I bought a 5-packet starter culture from everyone’s favorite, New England Cheesemaking Supply Co. This is also where I got my little basket mold and butter muslin for draining, but you could improvise these materials with a colander and a clean cotton pillowcase.
One packet sets a gallon of milk, so I use about 1/16th of a tsp of powder for a quart of milk, and mark it off on the packet itself so I know when to buy more. You can store the culture in the freezer for up to two years.
To start, pour your milk into a stainless steel pot and heat it up to around 80°F. The packet recommends 86°F, but again, this is a forgiving process and we’re just aiming for room temp. Our milk is raw, so I don’t want to cook out any of the goodness. If you are lucky enough to be using fresh milk straight from the goat, you’ll need to let it cool to the correct temperature.
Next, sprinkle your powdered starter over the milk and let it sit for two minutes to rehydrate. Then you’ll stir the culture throughout the milk. I use a whisk for this, but not the actual “whisking” motion. Now put a lid on the pan…and wait. Time is the biggest ingredient when making fresh cheese.
Creating Curds & Whey
If you start the cheese in the morning, let it sit in the pot undisturbed until the next morning. Personally, I do this bit at night and spend my wait time sleeping. (And by “sleeping” I mean getting up at least 3 times with either or both of my kids, with short little naps in between.)
And back to cheese!
After 12 (or even 24) hours, you should see a snow-colored solid mass of curds when you tilt the pan and pour off the yellow whey. Our cats and chickens LOVE cheese days, as they get the castoffs.
Scoop the lovely curds into a muslin-lined plastic cheese mold to drain. I let my cheese drain for about 6 hours. I prefer a wetter chèvre, but if you want a thicker, dryer cheese, let it drain longer.
TIP: No matter what you read anywhere else, don’t start this process in the morning, and then drain the cheese overnight. It is too long, you won’t be there to check on it, and that is how you end up feeding rubbery cheese to your cats. Ask me how I know. The initial 12-hr “waiting in the pot” process can be stretched out to 24 hours without any issues.
Seasoning Your Chèvre
Once your cheese has reached your preferred consistency, put it into a bowl for seasoning. I usually use a serving fork to blend my chèvre with Kosher salt to taste, but this is a guest blog and I wanted to feel fancy, so I added some fresh chopped thyme.
Once the cheese is seasoned, you can roll it into a log using plastic wrap and refrigerate, or you can use my ghetto method (there goes fancy), and smash it into a small plastic storage container. Hit it against the counter a few times to release any air bubbles, and then put the lid on and refrigerate for an hour or two.
Then, voila! Un-mold on top of a cheese plate, add fresh cracked pepper and herb garnish, and impress your friends.
Or, curl up with this pretty plate of delights and eat it all yourself. It’s that good. If you don’t finish it in one go, it keeps for a week in the fridge.